Rude Awakening

It’s been a slow beginning to summer. Graduation was last Sunday, and even though I have been looking forward to being free of classes for weeks (months?), the many duties and obligations that have shackled me have kept my mind strapped down more than I care to admit.

I told myself that Monday–last Monday–would mark the beginning of my work on my next book, tentatively titled Tesla’s Ghost. But that hasn’t happened. I got to Monday, sat down to write, and there was nothing there. I tried the usual tricks of doing mundane things–mowing the lawn and other yardwork–to help break me out of my writer’s block, but I couldn’t shake it. My buddy and fellow author Celeste Perrino-Walker told me, “Don’t worry about it. When I haven’t worked on a project for a while, sometimes it takes me at least a week to get started again.”

And so I decided to work on other things. I have plenty of projects around the house to do, things that I have put off for quite a while during the months I had spent working on the University’s website. And more importantly, I had agreed to help a local young man, an alum from our University who suffers from muscular dystrophy, to turn his life story into a book. He had sent it to me months ago to read, and I had critiqued it, asking him, “What do you want people to come away with when they read this?” It’s a common problem that people have when they write anything autobiographical; you end up explaining everything, and lose objective measurement of what is significant to other people.

He reworked the manuscript and I had met with him a couple of times since then, even soliciting the help of a cover designer that I know. When things with my own book were bogged down, I decided to work on his, and it actually was moving along pretty well. We had plans to meet this Thursday with the designer to talk about the cover.

Then I got an email from the campus chaplain just about an hour ago. The young man had died. There was no more explanation than that. But there really didn’t need to be. He had recently struggled with a respiratory bug, and needed assistance to breathe even on good days. I had approached the project–and had solicited the help of my designer friend–knowing that the book was probably intended as a legacy for the young man. And it will be–I assume, if his mother decides to continue with the project.

The whole situation shook me to the core. I have been around death before, but it never is something you get used to. And I have never had my writing play a part in someone’s legacy before.

It reminded me that we shouldn’t take our ability as writers for granted, or the time we have to pursue it. Everyone has a story to tell–I confide in my beginning reporting students–but not everyone has the ability to tell that story. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required,” says Luke 12:48. We might have worked hard to become the writers we are today, but we started off with a modicum of talent given by God. And with that gift, I believe comes a responsibility. To ourselves and to others. What you do with responsibility is what we will be someday held responsible for.

Writing can be fun. But it can also change people’s lives. We need to take our abilities–and our responsibilities–seriously.